I grew up on a dairy farm in country Victoria, Australia. I loved growing up on a farm and was very close with my parents and three younger sisters. Sixteen years ago, as a very naive nineteen year old, I boarded a plane for the first time and flew to Europe to work on cruise ships. A small girl in a big world, and I was excited to discover it.
During my first day onboard the Holland American Line cruise ship, the MS Statendam, I met a Dutch man. He was completing his apprenticeship onboard as an officer/engineer. We worked hard and played hard. Our first date was in Acapulco, Mexico and our second date was in Maui, Hawaii. Quite soon, we realised that our relationship was serious and, so began, the ten year long dilemma of “Where to Live – Australia or The Netherlands?”. Both countries are great in their own ways. We actually had a luxury problem, two wonderful countries to choose from.
In the first few years, we just went with the flow, living back and forth between Australia, The Netherlands and onboard various cruise ships. We just went with what worked for us at that point in time and tried not to think too much about where our long term future may lie.
After seven years together, we were married in Australia and the urge to ‘settle down’ became stronger. But where? We were in love with both countries, we had family in both countries and we could see many positives (and negatives) for each country. Both of our families of course wanted us to stay with them, in the country we each grew up in. We knew we could never make both sides of the family happy and that eventually, we would have to choose one country or the other. My worst fear was that we would end up continuously moving back and forth and would then, as a consequence, feel as though we didn’t belong anywhere. I needed to plant some roots. Friends and family would make their point of view clear, pointing out the negatives of the ‘other’ country, hoping to persuade us in their favour. The pressure of trying to make the ‘correct’ choice was, at times, unbearable. We were living in limbo, and the guilt of knowing that one day, we would hurt those we love by moving to the other side of the world was chewing away at my insides.
After ten years of indecisiveness, and two children later, we realised that we could not make the decision for everyone else. We had to do what was best for us at that time. What was best for our little family. No one else. Just us four.
We had two young children under three at the time when we sold our house in Sydney and relocated to the Netherlands. We realised that we could make a better life for ourselves in the Netherlands due to the work opportunities for my husband and other various factors. Turns out there were not all that many opportunities in the maritime industry in Australia. In addition, my husband had worked hard at university for his marine engineering degree and it was not recognised in Australia. The land-based maritime employment opportunities in the Netherlands were endless with Europe’s largest harbour being in Rotterdam.
During our fifteen years together, we have lived 50% of that time in Australia and 50% in the Netherlands. We now feel that we have a good feeling of what it is like to live in both countries and have thoroughly enjoyed our time in both. However, I am the one who has left my family and friends behind and I still feel a pang of guilt at times. These are the moments when I just need to focus on the positives of the Netherlands and remind myself that we did what was best for our little family.
Everyone is quick to judge. When people here ask me where I am from and I tell them Australia, I always get the same reaction with a look of disbelief, “Why on earth are you living here in the Netherlands?!”. Many of the dutch know Australia only as a holiday destination and relate to this experience. Sometimes it is difficult to stay positive, especially during this time of the year when we are headed into a long, dark winter here in the Netherlands and I see all the sunny pool and beach photos from my family and friends in Australia on Facebook. But of course, the European winter also has its charms to it. I am looking forward to things such as the arrival of Sinterklaas, snow sledding with the kids, the warmth of an open fire place, the gezelligheid of fairy lights everywhere and the smell of a real Christmas tree in our living room.
Everyone wants to justify why they chose the country they chose to relocate to. I am not going to do that. We now know that there was no right or wrong choice. Home is where you make it. We have come to the conclusion that both countries are just as good as each other. They are both wonderful, wonderful countries and I feel privileged that I have been able to experience living in both.